“The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz
The story revolves around overweight nerd Oscar — self proclaimed “Dominican Tolkien” — his family, and their lives both in and out of the Dominican Republic. But Oscar isn’t so easily explained with simple adjectives as “fat” or “awkward.” No, Oscar is a special case who needs a degree of descriptive depth in order to give a complete and accurate understanding of who he is.
Take a small room, fill it with books, then fill it with more books. Now, take H.P. Lovecraft, Frank Herbert, Isaac Asimov, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and J.R.R. Tolkien, give them claustrophobia and stuff them into said room. After that, jam in a VHS of “Akira” wherever you can fit it. Oscar Wao’s head is kind of like that: an overcrowded room filled with pulp fiction and incapable of properly interacting with women.
The book makes sure you know it too, indulging in every moment it can to show the massive list of men and women throughout his life that go out of their way to avoid, abuse, mistreat, betray, manipulate, and just plain make fun of Oscar. You feel bad for him, and by the end, all you want for him is a happy ending.
Each and every character has a great deal of depth and exposition, covering their family lineage from the grandparents Oscar never met to the crazy fringe relatives that burned his mother alive. It all feels real, with small moments of surrealism just to stir the pot. The author does a great job of integrating pop culture in a way that’s relevant to the story, such as comparing Dominican politics to Tolkien’s Mordor, as well as finding a way to justify every single sci-fi and fantasy reference he could.
Not only does Junot Diaz show off his knowledge of nerdy things, he makes it part of the story. I won’t spoil the ending for those who wish to read it, but it was a fitting conclusion.
I enjoyed this book. Despite many reasons why I shouldn’t have, I did. This book does what it needs to do to keep you interested, and all you can do is sigh and keep on reading. Many parts were kept afloat with humor alone, and humor alone is a good enough reason to read this book. “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” won a Pulitzer that was most assuredly deserved. If you give it a read, you’ll agree.